Participating in Politics as a Retailer
In such a new industry, there are bound to be aspects or government regulations that retailers and producers don’t agree with. Whether it’s municipal zoning, provincial license qualifications, or rules set by Health Canada, what can you do to let the powers that be know what’s on your mind?
According to Jaclynn Pehota, Executive Director for the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRES), the first step is to figure out who to talk to—your local, provincial, or federal representative. For anything under federal jurisdiction, talk to your MP, but retailers’ issues generally fall under provincial or municipal jurisdiction, so identify your local MLA as well as any other local politicians like municipal, city, or town councillors.
Once you find the best person to talk to, give them a call to set up an in-person meeting. Pehota says to do this whenever possible because meeting face-to-face humanizes you and encourages more empathy for your cause. When you get there, though, check your frustrations at the door.
“Be polite and respectful,” advises Pehota. “Your frustrations are real, especially if your livelihood is on the line, but you’re going to catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Be an approachable member and stakeholder in the community and they are much more likely to be empathetic.”
Likewise, make sure you go into the meeting with more than complaints. You will be most successful if you not only identify the issue but present solid evidence as to why it’s a problem along with actionable solutions that are, preferably, an acceptable compromise.
After the initial meeting, don’t give up! Be persistent. Of course, that doesn’t mean waiting outside their office and harassing them with daily phone calls and emails, but according to Pehota, a weekly phone call to the proper office to let them know you’re not going anywhere is perfectly fine.
You deserve their attention too, and there’s nothing wrong with spelling that out for elected officials.
“There are things you can do to emphasize that your business contributes the same taxes, jobs, and money into the economy as any other business,” she says. “You deserve their attention too, and there’s nothing wrong with spelling that out for elected officials.”
There’s a saying in politics: ‘All politics are local.’ According to George Smitherman, President and CEO of the Cannabis Council of Canada, the expression still rings true.
“Anybody that is working in a regulated industry really should have a focus on building relationships with local politicians and regulators,” says Smitherman.
Building relationships with the local Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations, as well as engaging with local politicians can help destigmatize the industry and give credit where credit is due when it comes to the jobs, taxes, and other economic growth the cannabis industry provides. Not only that, but the more politicians become aware of some of the roadblocks to success that retailers are experiencing, the more they can help remove them.
Relationship building is one of the most important things you can do.
“If you’re in a regulated sector, you have a special responsibility to build relationships with politicians at all levels,” insists Smitherman. “Relationship building is one of the most important things you can do.”
If you’re ready to get involved, there are lots of ways.
As a business owner, there likely isn’t a lot of time left in the day to be writing letters, making phone calls, or having meetings with politicians, so the easiest thing to do is to join your local Chamber of Commerce, Board of Trade or similar organization, which can advocate for you.
Daniel Safayeni, Vice President of Policy at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Co-Chair of the Ontario Cannabis Policy Council, says that joining a business organization has an amplifying effect on voices in the community and that businesses can leverage their policies and relationships to advocate for themselves.
If you find yourself with more time in your schedule, why not go all the way and run for office yourself?